We had an interview Sebastian Mackensen, Senior Vice President of MINI: “we sell a lifestyle…”


At the recent Brussels Motor Show we talked with the Senior Vice President of MINI. Born in The 46-year-old Sebastian Mackensen with a master’s degree in business administration and economics joined the BMW Group in October 2013 and brought with him many years of international sales experience in the automotive premium segment. He started as head of worldwide MINI Sales. In March 2015 he then succeeded Jochen Goller as Senior Vice President MINI…

Just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel


At the Brussels Motor Show, Sebastian Mackensen presented the new MINI cabrio…

Q: Focusing on this stunning and genial efficiency which BMC engineer Sir Alec Issigonis put in his cars, the unique layout and the sporting agility resulting from this in the Mini, its iconic shape,  my question is, how will you translate this uniqueness of the Mini into the generations of urban car users in the future?

Mackensen: Coming first to your initial remarks about Sir Alec Issigonis, we always think about two if we pick out two people out of the thousands which were important for the Mini brand, and yes it is Issigonis, but it is also John Cooper. Without John Cooper we would not today be where we are and who we are. We have different ways we talk about this. We have the “minimizer” Issigonis, and the “maximizer”, which is John Cooper.

We have also this internal way where we would say, focus on the essential, maximizing the spirit. Focus on the essential is Issigonis, maximizing the experience is John Cooper. It was Alec Issigonis who designed the car with Suez and the resulting fuel shortages in mind, so the compactness and efficiency of the Mini stemmed from Alex Issigonis, the go-cart feeling and the handling (which of course stemmed basically from the drivetrain layout and suspension design of the Mini – our note) is something on which John Cooper focused. So he got its hands on this car, and said let’s beef up the engine, and this created the sporting aspect of Mini, that really is a huge part of our success in our history.


At the BMW stand on the Brussels Show, he witnessed together with the female presenter the unveiling of the MINI electric concept…

Q: There was at the very beginning, right after the launch of the Mini a huge British tuning industry which also saw the handling qualities of this Mini, and started offering tuning packages… and BMC (British Motor Corporation) wanted to get a piece of the cake, and basing themselves on their experience collected in their racing program decided to launch a sporting version, and invited John Cooper to design it and lend his name for series production of this more potent Mini…

Mackensen: Exactly, and this means we have greater use of space, we have the efficiency, but we also have the fun part. How do we envision that for the future? This shouldn’t change, it should stay the same. It is essential, it is in the DNA of the brand. What we think, when you talk about the future, we have urbanization, electrification as a trend, we have Mini as being THE urban automotive premium brand, so this really feels only natural, and then you add the local zero emission technology to a very urban car, and here you go, that’s what the future for Mini is. We don’t have to change our persona to be able to host that, it fits well.

Q: You think the taste of urban customers will not change, they will continue to like the iconic shape of the Mini…

Mackensen: You mean the design language of the Mini? You know, this is not an easy one. Because if you have such a unique design heritage, you have to be very careful in how to develop it, this is also why we do not revolutionize the appearance of our cars, and on the other hand, you should not miss the point of advancement, with the excuse of heritage. This is a fine line, where we have to find our way, and we have to set sometimes impulses, which might not suit everybody’s tastes in the very first moment,  but if you hopefully got it right, you will be successful.

by @Philippe Wuyts Photography
by @Philippe Wuyts Photography

Q: So you gradually coerce your Mini clients to accept the style of the car to go in a certain direction…

Mackensen: Indeed, you have to. Because if you notice that you miss the point, it is actually too late. You have to change something before people ask for it. If in the Tour de France, you start eating and drinking because you are hungry and thirsty, you won’t make it to the finish line. You have to do it very subtly, with a lot of sensitivity.

Q: It is a stroke of genius, the styling of the rear lights…


Mackensen: And you have to take a close look at it. Typically, rear lights are exactly the same, but if you look carefully, you will see that they differ. Because in the union jack you have two stripes, and one is thin and one is thick, so on the rear lights, on the one on the right side, the upper one is the thin one, and on the left side the upper one is the thick one. Only this way it remains authentic and faithful to the striping pattern of the union jack.


Your servant Hans Knol ten Bensel and Sebastian Mackensen posing proudly in front of the 5 door MINI after the interview… 

Q: You embarked last year also in other ventures, design, fashion, and you are also thinking about new products, formats, and the question is whether this in tune with the BMW Group strategy;

Mackensen: It is definitely in tune with the Mini strategy, the official name for these activities is Mini Living, the other one is Mini Fashion. What we do there, is that, maybe not on first sight, not so much in your face like other activities, but Mini has always been a brand which is on the forefront of things, and which stays in touch with what we call the creative class, the urban community. One way to interact is a car show, is a press conference. But the Mini brand is also a lifestyle. We don’t sell (only) transportation, you can buy transportation for a lower budget, that’s not us.


We have a lifestyle product, which makes your personal transportation a lot of fun and a statement. We think in these times that Mini has a real heritage, which means in the creative use of space, and for urban dwellers there are a lot of difficulties to find space, which has a good price and still a nice design. When it comes to creative use of space, there is a sort of connection with the Mini heritage. And on the front of fashion, Mini was always very fashionable.

Mini Living

A few months ago, MINI launched a MINI Living project intending to create a housing concept that is sustainable and original...

There are things where we have an authentic right to engage ourselves and to make interesting actions for our brand. In Shanghai by the way, we started with a developer who is redesigning and developing an existing building, which will be a Mini Living Building, and the design of the space will be influenced and headed by an external architect, who will transform it in an apartment building, shared working place, there will be parking in it, it will be a true Mini Living Space in Shanghai. There are many things which complement very well our positioning of the brand.

Q: You have your proper think tank which sees the automotive and urban future…sen: Indeed, we have a group which focses mainly on Mini, for business innovation, where things like this Mini Living Project come out, but we also look into how is our business maybe changing within the coming years. How we interact with our customers.


Q: You are of course very much in tune with the BMW (future) mobility trategy, like Drive Now, Charge Now, etc…

Mackensen: Yes, and these BMW Group offers will be available for Mini customers. We have now quite a few Mini’s in the Drive Now fleet, for instance.


Q: Can you say something about the penetration in other markets, for example the Asian market?

Mackensen: Over the last years we have been really successful in Europe, we had a strong growth, and in Belgium we had a phenomenal development in the last three years, also in Germany our growth has been very strong, now looking into Asia, it is also very positive, with great developments in Japan, Australia, Oceanic region, also the smaller markets like Malaysia, Thailand, and we witnessed also a new record year in China, and one has to keep in mind here that we do not produce locally.


The unique cabin atmosphere of the original works rallye Mini’s has been retained in today’s MINI’s… with Sebastian Mackensen here showing off the state of the art connectivity… 

Q: I must say that the new Mini translates not only externally, but also inside the cabin this unique Mini feeling. I remember at the time, when my father was the editor of one of the most important illustrated magazines in our country, we could have a short drive in the works rally cars, and we find back in today’s Mini these typical switches and toggles…


The heritage Mini at the Monte Carlo Historic in 2011…

Mackensen: Wow, can you imagine, I met recently Paddy Hopkirk, and we have a new commercial for the John Cooper Works, and it goes back to the race in Monte Carlo, and we have filmed new sequences, and of course, he didn’t drive the car for this movie, but back then sat behind the wheel and he won! We watched the commercial together, and this was a great moment for him. It was a good Mini moment!


Thank You Monte: The MINI team at the historic edition of the Monte Carlo Rallye 2011…

We thank you for this interview.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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